MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 14: Zen, Miyavi and Achille Lauro are seen on Gucci Front Row during Milan ... [+] Menswear Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2020/21 on January 14, 2020 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images for Gucci)Getty Images for Gucci
With eight successful world tours totaling more than 250 shows in more than 30 countries behind him, Japanese singer, songwriter and record producer Miyavi (Takamasa Ishihara) understands the unique power of live, in-person music performances. Known among fans as the “Samurai Guitarist,” the Los Angeles-based international artist is known for his unconventional guitar-playing technique that has built his popularity and caught the eye of brands like Toshiba and Nissan for television commercial music production.
Now Miyavi is redefining virtual performances that have grown mainstream during the coronavirus pandemic. His most recent collaboration with Amazon Music AMZN last week resulted in a free, exclusive performance, “Miyavi Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis,” on the Amazon Music app. Originally premiered last year on Amazon Music’s Twitch, the archived performance was re-released as a series of eight video clips, or songs, available to stream on Amazon Music as either singular performances or a playlist similar to a live, visual album.
As Miyavi evolves the ways in which ground-breaking technology and music merge, his virtual live performance series with Amazon Music is setting a new norm for live music performances–one in which innovative creativity and international collaboration thrive.
“This year, the unprecedented spread of disease has transformed the global economy we had become comfortable in … as a result, it has become a year for musicians to reconsider the message we convey in our music,” Miyavi says.
“Miyavi Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis” was created using Unreal Engine, a real-time 3D game engine developed by Epic Games and used for Fortnite and The Mandalorian. Miyavi performed in a green-screen studio with cameras, lighting and performance mirroring virtual sets and tracked in real-time by a Reality Engine tool. So, when a camera moved on set, it also moved in the virtual world.
Producers also collected electroencephalography (EEG) data, or electrical activity of the brain, from Miyavi and incorporated it into the visual performance. Since all sets and effects like explosions and fire were virtual, there was no physical waste from set building.
The entire production was produced by an international team in quarantine with almost all crew members working in tandem from their respective homes across the U.S., Italy and Japan. From his home in Tokyo, Miyavi was able to perform the same type of visual experience he would in person.
Miyavi and his team produced live virtual performances using various technologies including VR and XR/AR. Similar to the way in which listening devices have evolved over time, the artist believes that it’s crucial to evolve live performances utilizing new technologies to meet consumer demands.
“Will virtual performances ever replace live shows? Not entirely, but this pandemic has compelled us into exploring new mediums and accelerate innovation in the delivery of live music,” Miyavi says.
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: Miyavi performs live in concert at Sony Hall on August 19, 2019 in New ... [+] York City. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images)Getty Images
Taking pandemic precautions, Miyavi halted filming a live-action music video and pivoted instead to using volumetric capture technology for his track “Need for Speed.” He filmed his performance in a Tokyo studio with the creative team directing remotely from their homes in New York, Los Angeles and South America with post-production completed in Unreal Engine.
Miyavi enjoyed using Unreal Engine so much that he chose it again for producing his “Synthesis” show streaming live on Twitch. However, while audiences view an engaging virtual world, artists only see a green screen during the performance and must face the challenge of imagining performing in front of a live audience in a virtual environment.
“My job as a musician is to rock, but it’s the platform's responsibility to make the audience feel my energy through the delivery of the performance,” Miyavi adds. “I want to be at the forefront of that, continuing to aim higher to deliver my performances in new ways that no one has ever done before.”
With no flights or equipment transportation required for the making of “Miyavi Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis,” the team was also inspired to redefine live production around a mindset of sustainability. The show offered Miyavi the opportunity to speak out on current social issues around the world. As an actor (Unbroken, Kong: Skull Island and Bleach) and philanthropist, he regularly uses his music and messaging as a platform to bridge cultures across the globe.
“Climate change, refugee issues, hunger, poverty, inequality and pandemic … how can we deal with the global problems we face, how can we commit to the future of the planet through music and art? There may be a limit to what we can do, but we may find a new way of life by fusing with technology,” Miyavi says.
The technical production lead for Miyavi’s Amazon show is David Cihelna, co-founder of Pyramid Three R&D studio and production company with artist and filmmaker Dyan Jong (director and renowned gif artist for Billie Eilish, Miyavi and Kali Uchis among others).
“Artists are pushing themselves to figure out new boundaries for technology. It opens so many doors to how performers can interact with fans and how audiences can feel closer to an artist,” Cihelna says. “We’re just seeing the beginning of these types of experiences.”